One car, two kids, and three thousand miles

Road by Peter Griffin

Traveling with young children demands a large dose of patience, the ability to shift plans on the fly, and a generous sprinkling of slap-stick humor. This past summer, my husband and I loaded up the car, popped in the kids, and went wandering for the entire month of June. It was not a trip for the faint-hearted. It was not a trip we’ll ever forget.

On our winding drive from Massachusetts to Orlando, we stopped to visit uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, and grandparents. There was a lot of love, a lot of adventure. But there were also a lot — a lot — of bumps. There were flat grey skies, and rumble-red moods. There were missed turns and U-turns and turning around to watch as our highway exit faded sadly into the distance.

There was the Diet Coke disaster, where twenty-four ounces of badly-needed caffeine ended up in my lap, a sticky-cold bath. I learned how to clean projectile vomit from the roof of the car, and how to stop myself from hyperventilating in truck stop restrooms. Public restrooms are never my forte — my imagination is just too good at summoning the contours of every contaminate or germ. But the bladders of a four-year old and a seven-year old don’t bow to convenience or cleanliness, and we stopped in some fairly wretched places. I suppose Valium might have helped.

If it wasn’t broken toilets, it was flies around the diner booth. Or tears over ice cream flavors. Or sisterly spats in the back of a car that seemed to shrink with every lung-clearing bellow.

But all the spills, the vomit, the brawls and band aids paled in comparison to the North Carolina flat worm that attached itself, vampire-like, to Boo Monkey’s calf half-way through the trip. I pulled it off, Boo and I both screaming. We called the doctors — local and distant. We checked the internet. We cleaned and iced her leg. And my sister-in-law, bless her soul forever, poured kitchen cognac on that worm until it was three steps deader than dead. We were calm in front of Boo Monkey, but when her back was turned, we gagged silently and shivered, and then poured a bit more cognac.

Like I said, the trip had bumps. And if that long string of days had been nothing more than worms and worry, I would have tossed the towel and turned around. Luckily, our families pulled us forward, bright beads along the string. They offered cozy beds, scrumptious food, and laundry machines, playgrounds and pools and late-night chats.

A family vacation can bring out the best and the worst in everyone. It can also tumble the walls of the everyday, the routines that keep us, lock-step, in our roles and patterns. Together, we dove in the ocean and saved cannonball jellyfish from the beach. We survived the ogre librarian (who was later conquered by Nana). We told jokes over traffic jams and sang crazy car songs and played endless games of The Minister’s Cat.

We found the funny in days that seemed nothing more than restless discontent. At the zoo, Rainbow Girl asked why there were so many mama lions and baby lions but only one daddy lion. My husband and I shared a frozen moment of panic before we came up with a suitably vague but satisfying answer. When Boo-Monkey saw the Georgia billboards for strip-clubs, she said, “Look mama, they sell ladies at that store.” Sometimes, we just bit our tongues.

And we kept driving. Because that’s what you do, on a car trip, on a vacation, or on a rainy day at home when math lessons are a drudgery and the dog throws up and the computer’s hard drive crashes. Ultimately, our long and winding family vacation was a lesson in how to stick together when the day falls apart. And that, by any standards, was worth the soda bath and the lingering smell of car vomit and even, but just barely, a duel with a flatworm.

Next time, though, I’m bringing Valium to get me through those truck stops.

What are your best and worst family vacation stories — involving worms, or otherwise? Please share!



6 thoughts on “One car, two kids, and three thousand miles

    • The Minister’s Cat is an old-timey alphabet game — very fun. I’ll teach you on our next literary jaunt!! And as for this summer, oh, you have to go! It’s an experience you just can’t miss. Plus, think of the stories that will come out of that winding road . . . . 🙂

  1. Where to begin? My parents, bless their hearts, brought us everywhere. My mother is going to Heaven, despite her scathing and occasionally sarcastic wit and impatience with others, simply because she was able to successfully pack for and navigate to upstate NY and back with children aged 2 and 0. The blender, the playpen, the stroller, and enough wafer cookies to keep us silent during the entire ferry ride across Lake Champlain are distinct memories from this trip. Mom and Dad wore their bandanas bandit-style, covering their faces on endless miles of narrow gauge steam rails to satisfy us while my dad satisfied his love of all things transportation. They made up remarkable stories for us that wove a magical tapestry out of the ordinary (next time you’re passing by a water tower partially obscured by trees, take note at how much it looks like a UFO). They revealed the best of themselves as they rode with us in Cinderella’s coach in the middle of the NH woods, as they helped us judiciously select treats from the bounty of Quincy Market, and as they let us ride seated in the very front window of the T, pretending we were in Star Wars as we hurtled through time and space toward the aquarium or the science museum. They also revealed their short comings- their tempers, their unwillingness to ask for directions, their penchant for buying fussy foreign cars that insisted on breaking down on the way to the beach at 7:30am on a sweltering July day. The cracks that were already zig-zagging across the landscape of their marriage always became larger and more fault-like on those trips, and yet the major feeling that I’m left with is of the fun and of the love they felt for my sister and I and the fact that, for a while, that was enough and it filled in the cracks, or at least stitched them together temporarily. Thanks, Lisa, for this post.

  2. My husband and I were recently married (second marriage for each) when we headed off to Kentucky for a family reunion. Crammed into the backseat was my son (8), my daughter (4) and his daughter (13) – all three covered up with an old quilt.

    At this point in our relationshiop, we were in those initial, delicate first stages of trying to meld ourselves into a new family blend. We were barely an hour into the drive when my daughter projectile-vomited Spaghetti O’s through the hands clasped over her mouth, which, as is well-known, only makes things worse.

    We made a gallant attempt to continue our journey – at the first possible stop, she changed, the quilt was put in a garbage bag in the trunk and we did our best to clean up the car- but the lingering scent of vomit and the fact that she wasn’t getting any better, forced us to make a hasty retreat. Since she spent the weekend throwing up, we were glad that we did turn around.

    Her brother and step-sister have never let her forget the “Spaghetti O’s vomiting incident” which is now a cherished part of our family lore.

  3. I am life’s biggest fan of roadtrips — and we’ve had some wonderful ones! This rang true to many stories we’ve had too (although thankfully vomit has never been involved in our car…). My favorite story is when my daughter was 5 and son 10, I had packed a “stationery box” filled with rubber stamps, markers, papers, stickers, post-its, and SCISSORS (I know, what was I thinking??). About on day 10 of 14, my son said: “Mom, is it okay that H is giving herself a haircut?” I turned around to see my daughter trimming her bangs! Scissors next to eyes on bumpy lake road NOT a good idea. Bad mother award for that! (oh, and p.s. when I then turned my attention to my son? He had post-its covering his entire face!) It was an amazing and wonderful trips — these and yours are the memories we cherish forever 🙂

    • I love this story!! My youngest has cut her hair with scissors and my oldest cut a hole in her shirt once — though not in the car. And sticky notes all over the face — fabulous 🙂 I love, love, love a good road trip. It’s such a feeling of freedom and the joy of the unexpected. We’re hoping to drive from MA to the Grand Canyon one year. Though this summer, it’s a short trip, up your way, to Maine!

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